Ben Harvey Misses The Mark

They say that the secret to great wealth is to sell cheaply to many. However, like a lot of things ‘they” say, this is total bollocks. It is rather better, after all, if you’re a salesman, to sell one Rolls Royce a month as opposed to one South-Bank hot-dog an hour.

A word on those things, by the way – a microbiologist friend of mine reports that a student of his analysed one of the pork-tubes once (in order to further his despicable vegetarian agenda with quasi-scientific black propaganda, but this pushing it, for digressions, even for me). He found out that it was mostly trotter, and those bits of it that weren’t trotter were cartilage, and the whole thing would – in terms of the damage it would do to someone foolish enough to try & digest it – have about the same effect as injecting a syringeful of suet directly into your neck. But apparently the onions are OK.

That same student never, as far as I know, got around to researching the effects of trying to inject a Rolls Royce into someone’s artery but the financial comparison stands even if the nutritional comparison doesn’t; it’s hard enough to get a punter to part with their hard-borrowed cash in any event, so if you’ve managed to con them into reaching for their wallet you might as well get them to hand over £lots instead of £little.

Rather like upping the bets in poker, though, you do have to do this in increments, otherwise you’ll scare them right off and you won’t get a dime. Charging £269 for an iPhone, for example.

Now, I have – in previous columns – stated quite clearly and deliberately that I am no economist. I do not pretend to have any grip on pricing-strategies, or any deep, Zennish comprehension of the market, and the only instinct that I have for money is my strange ability to jump out of the way before the metal cage clangs down around the cashpoint I was attempting to use half a second previously (a word to my bank – you’ll never take me alive).

As such I do not presume to tell the world anything about finance, since that would be rather like Gordon Ramsey giving a lecture to a Tourettes support-group. As the great philosopher Dylan once said, though, you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And I know that you measure wind on the Beaufort Scale, but I have no idea how you measure the desperation of O2 salespeople. The ‘we’re f*cked” scale, perhaps, or possibly the ‘can I use that noose after you’re done with it” scale.

Ironic, isn’t it. You can imagine their finance guys looking at the total number of iPhones sold on the first day and saying: ‘Oh. Two.”

Again, I am no businessman. But, opening night at the O2 store in my city and there were twelve staff in the store itself and another outside, hawking out flyers. And how many customers were there inside? Three. One of them was me. The other was my friend Al, rather cruelly winding up the salesman about the data-rates. I recognised the look in the salesman’s eyes – it reminded me of myself, when I approach a girl in a bar and she doesn’t immediately mace me; it’s that mix of unbelieving hope, mixed with the knowledge it’s almost certainly a wind-up.

The third customer, by the way, was just asking how he could put a tenner on his credit. We left him surrounded by five staff trying to incite him into spending £259 more than he wanted to, all of them with an always-be-closing attitude that you only normally see on Foxtons staff or $cientologists.

Poor man. I don’t think he got out of there alive.

Anyway, what’s the solution for O2? Well, there isn’t one. They’ve dropped their trousers & grabbed their ankles in return for Apple granting them exclusivity and now they’re finding that the relationship, like all bum-love, isn’t actually likely to bear fruit. It’s not the iPhone’s fault – we’ve all felt the strange stirrings of love for that delectable little creature, memory qualms aside – but avarice has derailed what could have been a quite beautiful & total & instant domination of this country. Whether Apple are to blame by too high an RRP or whether O2 & CW are being too possessive with the contracts is up for debate but instead of selling cheaply to many – or indeed selling dearly to few – it’s been pitched bang-slap in no-man’s land. And the momentum, the hype, is leeching out & dying on its arse as we speak. In a week or a month nothing will have changed except that the excitement & novelty value will have atrophied. And in a month it’ll be Christmas, which, I think, isn’t going to be a very jolly one for a certain network.

So it’s not the end of the world, it’s just a missed opportunity. We’re all going to get one, but the point is that we should all have them right bloody now. The only negative effects it’ll really have will be those relating to the delays further down the line; say what you want about the device, what it will do, its real blessing, is to up the game of every other network, every other manufacturer and – more importantly – up the game of the consumer. As it drags us all kicking & screaming into a bold new age of…well, I don’t quite know…not quite mobile computing, but not far off…

The slight bungling of its launch here just moves the day further back when we’ll be moving onto its heirs & successors. And you can’t even begin to imagine the sort of hype they’ll roll out for that.

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